We have a crisis going on right now – an environmental toxin crisis, and it’s affecting everyone, including the most vulnerable population – our babies. Toxic chemicals have been found in human cord blood, so we know they’re getting through to the womb and baby. It’s really frustrating and unfortunate you even have to be concerned about this, but since the current federal laws for toxic substances are too weak to protect you and your baby, I suggest you take matters into your own hands.
When I was pregnant with my first kiddo, my eyes were opened to the harmful effects of chemicals on both me and my growing baby. This spurred me to make some behavioral changes to reduce my exposure to toxic chemicals while pregnant (more organic food, less toxic personal care products, and greener cleaning supplies, to name a few). It is possible to reduce you and your unborn baby’s exposures to toxic chemicals.
1. Don’t Smoke
Cigarettes contain thousands of chemicals proven to cause harm, including raising the risk of low birth weight and size, reduce lung capacity and impair brain function. Babies born to mothers who smoked during pregnancy are at higher risk of asthma, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), learning disabilities, diminished IQ and behavioral problems (1).
2. Get Your Iodine
Iodine buffers against chemicals such as perchlorate that can disrupt your thyroid system and affect your baby’s brain development during pregnancy and infancy. Use iodized salt, especially while pregnant and nursing, and take iodine-containing vitamins.
3. Eat Good Fats
Omega-3 fatty acids can offset the toxic effects of lead and mercury. Omega-3’s are plentiful in fish, eggs, nuts, and oils like cod liver oil and krill oil. Choose low-mercury fish such as salmon, tilapia and pollock, rather than high-mercury tuna and swordfish. Breastmilk is the best source of good fats for babies and protects them from toxic chemicals.
4. Go Organic and Eat Fresh Foods
Opt for organic fruits and veggies. If you purchase conventional produce, stick to the “cleanest” produce. You can refer to the Environmental Working Group’s shopping guide to pesticides in produce to see the “cleanest” produce.
Babies in the womb are exquisitely sensitive to pesticide exposure (2). Studies have found prenatal exposure to organophosphates is associated with diminished IQ in children. These pesticides also effects behavior and fertility, and increase the risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Choose milk and meat produced without added growth hormones, and even more ideally, choose organic. Limit canned food since can linings usually contain bisphenol-A (BPA), which is a common xenoestrogen. Xenoestrogens can duplicate, block or exaggerate hormonal responses. Xenoestrogens are also linked to a shorter pregnancy duration and lower birth rate (3).
In the developing fetus, estrogen controls the development of the brain, the reproductive system and many other systems, so BPA is a very concerning for parents.
5. Use Cloth Diapers or Non-Toxic Disposable Diapers
Diapers are made of synthetic plastic materials, particularly volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and phthalates, which can potentially be released while being used. This is a concern because diapers are in direct contact with external genitalia for an extended period of time, and these harmful toxins could be absorbed into the reproductive system (4).
6. Drink Safe Water
It’s important for pregnant women to stay very hydrated, but water can be full of impurities such as chlorine, perchlorate and lead. Don’t drink bottled water, which costs more and isn’t necessarily better. Instead, use a stainless steel, glass or BPA-free plastic reusable container.
I also recommend using a reverse osmosis system or carbon filter pitcher to reduce you and your baby’s exposure to all those impurities. The Environmental Working Group’s tap water database is a great way to find out which pollutants might be in your city’s tap water. It will also help you find the best water filtration system for your lifestyle.
If your water comes from a well, have it tested for arsenic.
7. Choose Toxin-Free Body Care Products
A label with the phrases “natural” or “gentle” doesn’t mean it’s free of toxic chemicals. Read the ingredients and avoid triclosan, BHA, fragrance, oxybenzone and parabens.
Parabens are commonly used as antimicrobial preservatives in makeup, lip balms, shampoos, conditioners, lotions, shaving creams, and facial and shower cleansers and scrubs. They can be found in the ingredients section of your beauty products under the names: methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, isobutylparaben, butylparaben and benzylparaben.
Anti-perspirants contain the aluminum, a heavy metal toxic to the brain.
For all you pregnant and breastfeeding moms, use paraben-free lotions, lip balms, shampoo, conditioner and make-up because parabens are absorbed through your skin, blood, and digestive system (4).
If I’m unsure about a product, I like to look it up on the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database.
8. Pick Plastic Products Carefully
Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to make plastics more flexible or resilient. Here's a big list of places where phthalates are found. These industrial toxins can trigger what’s known as “death-inducing signaling” in testicular cells, making them die earlier than they should. Studies also linked phthalates to hormone changes, lower sperm count, less mobile sperm, birth defects in the male reproductive system, obesity, diabetes and thyroid irregularities.
Phthalates have been detected in a pregnant woman’s cord blood, amniotic fluid and meconium (baby’s first poo). Because it can cross the placenta, exposure to the developing fetus during critical points in development is a concern (5).
Exposure to phthalates comes from the plastic smell that’s all too familiar when you sit in a new car or walk into a plastic-filled dollar store. If you’re moving into a new house, it’s full of phthalates – the roof, walls, flooring and even vinyl window shades (6). If you can’t avoid a move, at least air out and ventilate your house so you aren’t inhaling all those fumes every day.
Once your babe arrives and gets into the stage when everything goes into the mouth, don’t let him chew on plastic children’s toys, plastic/squishy toys, infant chew rings and teethers. They all likely contain phthalates and other plastic chemicals you don’t want in your baby’s body. Some phthalates are already banned in kid’s products, but not all, and infants are particularly prone to the negative effects of these chemicals.
9. Clean More Safely
Many common household cleaners are not safe during pregnancy – they rely on ingredients like alcohol, ammonia, parabens, triclosan, chlorine and glycol – all of which may be harmful to a developing baby. Definitely avoid oven cleaner—it can be dangerous to breathe, especially in the close quarters of your oven. Here is more information on understanding ingredients in household cleaning products. Try plant-based cleaning products or use ingredients like baking soda, vinegar, and lemon. These types of products use enzymes that break down stains and odors. In fact, baking soda and water used together in a DIY recipe can remove everyday stains.
10. Test For Toxins
Testing your hair via a Hair Mineral Analysis is an excellent way to determine whether your body is holding onto heavy metals and how well your body is detoxifying. The heavy metals tested include: Uranium, Arsenic, Beryllium, Mercury, Cadmium, Lead, and Aluminum.
It is impossible to eliminate exposure to all harmful chemicals when you’re pregnant, but you can reduce regular exposure to these chemicals with a few simple swaps. If you’re planning to become pregnant, improving the body's detoxification rate will increase the rate of detoxifying toxins, so take care of your liver with these seven tips!
If you would like to read more pregnancy blogs, Vitamin D, DHA, probiotics and calcium are so important during pregnancy I wrote about them in separate blogs. vitamin D during pregnancy, probiotics during pregnancy, healthy fats during pregnancy, and calcium during pregnancy. Enjoy!
Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods
1. EWG. 10 Tips for a Less Toxic Pregnancy.
2. American Pregnancy Association. Pesticides and Pregnancy.
3. Shortens pregnancy, lower birth rate: https://www.ewg.org/news/news-releases/2012/04/06/common-pesticides-associated-lower-birth-weight-shortened-pregnancy